Lion (2016) Movie Review by Kevan McLaughlin

Director: Garth Davis
Writers: Saroo Brierley (adapted from the book “A Long Way Home” by), Luke Davies (screenplay)
Stars: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara

Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman both deliver heartbreaking performances in a story that beats you to the ground and keep on kicking before embracing you warmly.

Saroo is a happy little 5 year old living in abject poverty in a poor area of India in the 1980s. He has his doting mother who works hard to provide a meagre existence and his older brother Guddu who is his protector, teacher and partner in crime.

When Saroo follows his brother to work Guddu tells him to wait outside for him to finish. Saroo awakes on a bench and, slightly disorientated, goes to look for Guddu. He climbs into a stationary train and falls asleep again. When he wakes up he’s very far from his mother and brother, isolated in a locked train carriage, bolting further and further away from his home.

Saroo, travelling alone for several days, arrives in Calcutta. He’s unable to speak Bengali, no one around him can understand his Hindi dialect and the ticket attendant at the station doesn’t recognise Saroo’s village he gives as “Ginestlay”. He also blends in seamlessly with the hundreds of other poor, starving homeless children in the city, with whom he spends the night, sleeping on cardboard.

Saroo is given some hope in the form of a kindly woman who takes him back to her apartment and tells him a man will come in the morning to take him to his mother. Saroo, not trusting the situation, runs away and continues to sleep rough for the next few weeks. When peering through a restaurant window imitating a customer eating soup, the curious and charmed man takes Saroo to the police who can’t trace his family and haven’t heard of Ginestlay.

The indomitable little boy is placed in an orphanage and after three months, Mrs Sood (who cares for the children in the orphanage) tells him that an advert was placed in a popular newspaper about Saroo’s situation and there have been no responses. However, he learns that a couple from Australia want to adopt him and Mrs Sood sets about teaching him English and western table etiquette.

Sue and John Brierly (Kidman and Wenham, respectively) take Saroo into their home in Tasmania, enamoured by his bright, beautiful nature. They adore the little boy and he feels the warmth and compassion he’s been missing for months. Sue and John adopt another boy from India, Mantosh. He too is embraced by his new parents and his new brother welcomes the recent addition to his new life. But Mantosh suffers from excruciating mental problems and is prone to regular bouts of violent self harm, hinting at a previous tormented life in India.

The now adult Saroo is in Melbourne, studying hotel management and meets Lucy (Mara), a confident and enthusiastic American. At a friends dinner party he reveals he was born in India, that he’s adopted and tells his tragic story. His friends encourage him to try Google Earth to locate his village. His relationship with Lucy develops at the same time he actively searches the internet every night trying to find his way home. The impossibility of devoting every spare minute he has to finding Ginestlay while Lucy looks on helplessly proves to be too much and she leaves him, convinced he has to find his home over them being together.

Saroo has been keeping his relentless searching for Ginestlay a secret from Sue and John as he doesn’t want them to think he’s been ungrateful for the life they’ve given him and Mantosh, coupled with his belief that his adopted parents got a raw deal when they adopted the boys. The adult Mantosh still has

bouts of rage and has developed substance abuse problems, while Saroo is constantly lost in a world that isn’t his. Sue tells him they adopted the boys, not because they couldn’t have children, because she and John chose to raise children from impoverished lives as they needed their love. That was one of the reasons she fell in love with John.

Dev Patel delivers a wonderfully empathetic performance, realising the duality the role requires. Saroo is a boy the belongs to, and paradoxically feels lost, in two worlds. Patel’s subtlety in delivering a conflicting viewpoint is beyond admirable.

Nicole Kidman is terrific in this film. The key, again here, is subtlety. Sue is a wonderfully warm and loving woman but, like Kidman’s performance, has to show restraint with such a sensitive subject. Kidman delicately plays our heartstrings and it’s such a lovely thing to witness.

Garth Davis delivers a film that’s seemingly a little uneven but, through the use of flashbacks, fantasy sequences and long, lingering shots of Saroo trying to make sense of his world, gives us a thoroughly balanced, well made bit of cinema. With such subject matter, it would be extraordinarily easy to serve up mawkish melodrama instead of the touching true story of Lion.

Cinematographer Greig Fraser makes fantastic use of an abundance of natural low-hanging light, capturing the shadows of Saroo’s past. In the fantasy sequences, his use of light again make it pop with hope and anguish.

Lion is a thoroughly entertaining and heart-wrenching film with an abundance of wonderful nuances from a cast more than capable of delivering gentle, faint strokes to their craft.

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